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30 Mar 2010 : Column 199WH—continued

The argument about taking both domestic and short-haul flights out of the air by connecting to Heathrow is overwhelming and powerful. The case for high speed rail stands: it is better for the economy, the environment and the travelling public.

I welcome the cross-party consensus on the principle, but it is absolutely clear that the specifics of the high speed proposals need to be judged on their merits. We have already made it clear that the Conservative party will reserve its position on the route that has been chosen. We will listen carefully to the points of view of those who are affected by it, but I do not believe that a report being published this close to a general election should close down the options for any incoming Government to reconsider both the remit and the route when elected. There are some good reasons for that. The remit that the Government set for High Speed 2 did not include clear plans beyond Birmingham, so much of the economic benefit of regeneration to the north has not been outlined in the report because it was never part of the remit at stage 1. There are some huge arguments about that.

On the failure to link Heathrow, we all accept that Old Oak Common will be a necessary stop because of the dispersal arguments, which the Minister raised. However, he failed to say that on the 20 and 25 per cent. dispersal, there are some real arguments. Without the connectivity to Heathrow, it is not the airport. Changing trains and getting to and from Old Oak Common are all issues that need considering. High speed rail also provides a huge alternative to short-haul flights. Being wedded to not allowing a remit to assess potential modal shift from air to rail by high speed rail will clearly frustrate and restrain the argument for a direct link to Heathrow. That is a huge flaw in the plans.

Many of the High Speed 2 proposals have merit, and I hope that the cross-party consensus on the principle of high speed rail will survive the general election, and that it can be built earlier. There will be a chance to go through the planning and legal phases by 2015 and I hope that the first sod can be cut two years earlier than the Government propose. I hope that high speed rail will be built in phases, and that the first phase-London-Birmingham-Manchester-Leeds-

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Chris Mole: The hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the official Opposition, has raised again the prospect of an earlier start. The Government were commended by the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) for their inclusive and all-encompassing consultation approach. Does the hon. Gentleman seriously believe that the legal mechanisms and appropriate consultation could take place and that work could start by the earlier date that he suggests when much of the necessary expertise will be transferred from the Crossrail project, which does not finish until after that date?

Mr. Hammond: I thank the Minister for his question. We have carefully examined and set out the plans that will be required, including extensive consultation and the need for a hybrid Bill. I believe that that could be done during the lifetime of a full Parliament.

12.22 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): I have a limited amount of time to respond to a range of excellent contributions from hon. Members. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing this debate, and I welcome all the points that have been made. It might be helpful if I first explain that the Government believe that high speed rail is the best way of enhancing our inter-urban transport networks. It is clear that over the next 20 to 30 years, key inter-urban routes linking our major cities will become increasingly congested.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) said that the original railways were built in just three years. The history of the railways shows that routes were often designed specifically to circumnavigate the opposition-usually landowners who had corporate interests in the canal system. The routes were dictated by political factors in the first instance, which is why we have inherited such a higgledy-piggledy network of railways from those Victorian entrepreneurs. We are the first Government to break that mould, to move away from that inheritance, and to start to deliver a new high speed network that links London with Birmingham, Manchester, the east midlands, Sheffield and Leeds. That could more than treble capacity on the congested west coast corridor, improve journey times between our major cities and, as many hon. Members have said, release capacity on existing lines for additional commuter services and freight.

In addition, linking the proposed core high speed rail network to the existing west coast and east coast main lines will make it possible to provide high speed services to other destinations, such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh-I might also add, Carlisle-from the outset. For example, the proposed network could reduce journey times from Glasgow to London to around 3.5 hours, creating significant scope for a modal shift from aviation to rail. It also has the potential radically to improve regional connectivity, drawing together the major conurbations of the midlands and the north.

My hon. Friend asked about the first generation of high speed trains that will have to be able to run on the classic network. I assure him that the speeds at which they run will be similar. They will not tilt, but the journey time savings on the London to Birmingham
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section will more than outweigh any restraint on speed on the network, which he has often made the case for upgrading.

My hon. Friend also asked about the future of Pendolinos. The subject will be up for discussion and further work. Some rolling stock and services will continue to operate on the classic network, but detailed planning of service patterns, rolling stock, timetables and distribution will take place later in the process.

On the benefits to the UK economy, the modelling carried out by HS2 suggests that a high speed line from London to Birmingham alone could provide benefits totalling some £29 billion, and up to £32 billion if wider economic benefits such as agglomeration effects are taken into account. The more extensive network in the Government's proposed Y-shaped core would bring still more significant benefits. It would shrink journey times further, and enable the UK's city economies to function more effectively together. At long last, we would start to tackle the problems inherent in our Victorian rail heritage.

My right hon. Friend referred to multiple connections to London, and that aspect of the consultation will start in the autumn, but there will be questions about the cost and provision of a second London station site. The Government have rejected that at this stage, on the advice of HS2 Ltd. We are confident that a single stem will provide sufficient capacity. Resilience issues are important, but they have been thoroughly considered. The Command Paper published on 11 March, as well as supporting an initial core high speed network going as far north as Manchester and Leeds, also supports two further elements of high speed rail policy.

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The first is the through-running of high speed services to destinations further north. Through-running will be possible when the line to Birmingham has been constructed and when it has been extended to Manchester and Leeds. Journey time savings to Scotland, Newcastle and elsewhere will be dramatic, and I encourage hon. Members to inspect the helpful journey time schematics that are available in the Command Paper.

The second element in the Command Paper is extensions to the core network, which would run to Newcastle on the eastern branch and to Edinburgh and Glasgow on the western branch. Intermediate stations on those lines will continue to be discussed, and I note that my hon. Friend staked a claim today for a station there. That, and proposals for stations elsewhere, will receive careful attention.

Let me put it on record early in my response that the Government have no intention of allowing the existing rail network to wither on the vine. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) made a case for electrification of the midland main line, to which the Government are committed. We continue to examine the business case in the context of the existing rolling stock.

I am running out of time, but this is a national cause, which the Secretary of State has driven forward with his usual energy and passion. Much work remains to be done, and all interested parties have a chance to register their views. I am sure that they will do so through the consultation, whether on the extended hardship scheme or the route. High speed rail has the potential to rewrite the geography of our country, to conquer the north-south divide at last, and to ensure that all the UK's regions are open to the opportunities of our globalised economy.

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Early Intervention

12.29 pm

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr. Wilshire. I understand, with a note of sorrow, that you will not be with us on future occasions. It is a pleasure to have known you over the years as a parliamentary colleague.

I also welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister. She and I share some unfortunate statistics regarding the make-up of our constituencies, and the deprivation and difficulties that exist. The third member of the trio, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) is not with us, although sadly our constituencies sometimes linger near the wrong end of tables. I know that the Minister wishes to make an impact on such issues in her constituency, as do I, and she brings a special knowledge to bear on that.

I have called this debate to welcome the Government's document, "Early Intervention: Securing good outcomes for children and young people". I am not sure whether it is a White Paper, a Green Paper or just a document; none the less, I was pleased to see its publication last week. It is a guide and an inspiration, and I wish it had been available five years ago when I started as the chair of One Nottingham, trying to make Nottingham an early intervention city. It would have been of tremendous assistance.

In the spirit of early intervention, I hope that this document will be a guide and inspiration to many who come after us in different guises, and that it will inform the policies of the next Government, of whatever political complexion. It is a long overdue, well drafted and well pulled together document, and I have sought to spread it far and wide. It provides the groundwork for something I would like to see, which is a commitment in the election manifestos of all three main parties to furthering early intervention, and to developing 12 early intervention cities, perhaps by learning from what we tried to do in Nottingham. We also need the creation of an early intervention policy assessment centre. That issue is touched on in the document, although we must solidify it in practice. Early intervention should be funded through the capital markets and not through the Government, so that we can obtain the longevity and certainty that is the foundation of effective early intervention.

I have given the document a warm welcome, but I will now focus, rather perversely, on one or two issues where I think we could go further. I do not intend to be destructive in any way, and I hope my comments will be taken in the creative and constructive spirit in which they are offered. My first-it is rather wistful-is that I wish we had made more of this publication, and perhaps the Minister will tell us why it was dealt with in such a low-key way last week. I did not know it had been published until I was asked to comment on it by specialist journals. When I sent the document to the usual suspects and to national and international experts on early intervention, not only did they not know it had been published; many did not know it had been written. It was a low-key publication, which is a shame as there is a great story to tell. If we are to win people over to early intervention, we must start to trumpet it as a concept and philosophy that counters many of the ideas that
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exist so strongly in the way we currently administer social policy. I could not get a hard copy of the document this morning from the Vote Office, and that was rather strange.

It is an excellent publication, although we could have improved it further had we had a conference and a more open process of critique and consensus. The Minister may have known of time constraints that I was unaware of, but all friends of early intervention want to gather round and be as helpful as we can when the Government are doing such good things. The Government have also created an early intervention section within the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and that is welcome. All the trend lines are going in the right direction, and we hope to build on that with the Government.

A more serious criticism is that the opening definition of early intervention in the publication is not particularly good. Thankfully, it goes on to ignore that definition, and there is lots of good stuff in the body of the work. The definition of early intervention is given as,

but the whole basis of early intervention is that we get to problems before they emerge. We anticipate and pre-empt, and in some ways that definition is almost the antithesis of early intervention. The real definition of early intervention, and the one arrived at by many practitioners who think about and practise it, is to develop social and emotional capabilities in every baby, child and young person, so that problems do not emerge. It is not about problem-solving; it is about eliminating causes. To put it in less flowery language, a stitch in time saves nine-something that every parent understands.

The document is most welcome because of the way it pulls together a lot of understanding and practice in the field. However, we must guard against adopting the language of early intervention on a flavour-of-the-month basis by co-opting the language, but not changing existing practice. We must challenge and change existing practice, as well as paying lip service to the concept of early intervention. When I was chair of One Nottingham we pioneered the concept of an early intervention city, and there was undoubtedly an unconscious process on the part of some of the big public bureaucracies of absorbing and incorporating non-conformist ideas that were not measured, tested or benchmarked from the centre. A warm embrace tends to envelop such ideas, and they disappear after a brief life. It would be a tragedy for children and our intergenerational development if that happened with early intervention. We do not wish to see an exciting vision turned into policy administration and the defence of existing public bureaucratic boundaries and enormous remedial budgets.

We cannot go on as we are. There is a clear public policy choice: we either continue as we are, which will mean that we pauperise every taxpayer to pay for the costs of social failure; or we take a different turning and try to squeeze down on dysfunctionality at the earliest possible moment, in order to ensure our economic, let alone our social, survival.

One of the issues that comes through in the document is the attempt to commit to a common attainment level across society. There is a terrible waste of babies, children and young people throughout some of our communities. If we can define a social and emotional bedrock and a standard that is applicable to all children-particularly
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to make them school-ready-we will obtain a fundamental sea change in the way we view our role and responsibilities in society. We need clarity in raising standards, particularly the standard of having a child who is ready to go to school, rather than condemning that child to go to school followed by 11 wasted years because they are unable to listen, learn and make the best of that time. If we do not do that, we could slip back into pure remedialism.

I guess this is just a personal thing, but some of the professional jargon we encounter rankles a little. I am thinking of debates about stigmatisation, and the use of pseudo-medical phraseology such as "triage" or the misuse of the word "resilience", given that many children cannot bounce back if they are not given the right social and emotional tools and equipment to work with. One of my least favourite terms is "risk factors". That tends to involve a list of the symptoms, rather than seeking to deal with the fundamental causes of many of those symptoms. Again, the fundamental cause is the social and emotional capability or incapability of many of the babies, children and young people whom we are discussing.

We must be careful: unless we have the vision that I have set out and unless we have it in mind at all times, we can lapse into the day-to-day maelstrom of micro problem-solving that so many of our public servants are sucked into. They do remarkably well in that firefighting job, but there must be a point at which people step back and, as well as fighting the fires, have a proper programme for smoke alarms. As well as swatting the mosquitoes, people must have a proper programme for draining the swamp. That vision and aspiration cannot be set by hard-working local officials in the health service, the police, children's services and community services. It must be set at the top. The philosophy and the desire to change the culture have to be clearly there at the political and ministerial level. I welcome in particular the personal work done by the Minister, but also the work done by the team at the Department in moving that forward.

Fundamentally, we need to reach much further back to resolve some of the difficulties than we are currently doing. On occasion, the language in the document I am discussing slips a little from its own very high standards. People talk about specific problem solving and remedialism, when really this issue is about breaking the intergenerational cycle. As the Minister will know very well from experience in her own constituency, we need to see the baby who is born as tomorrow's parent, who can go on to raise a better generation. If we can crack the intergenerational cycle of deprivation, that will go a long way towards resolving many of the symptoms, including crime, drug abuse and drink abuse, with which we are all too familiar.

I commend the document, particularly for its work on partnership. Partnership is about a vision and a culture. The chief executive of Nottingham city council has said that

I hope we can continue that momentum, but to make partnership working more effective, we must ensure that proper help is available from a policy assessment centre for early intervention such as those in Colorado and Washington state, which were mentioned in the document, and many other areas. I am talking about a centre that can implement and drive my ambition,
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which is to see a dozen cities become early intervention cities and break out of the constant and expensive cycle of trying to tackle the consequences of deprivation and dysfunction.

I also commend the document for its excellent work on funding and money saving; it is a small section, but I know it is not an afterthought. There is much more to be done in that regard. We have to break out of the problem whereby funding tends to be for one year or two years and people do not have a 20 or 30-year, long-term view, which is essential. Unless we do that, there will just be small starburst efforts based on personal energy or individual projects, rather than a long-term philosophy.

Tracking is also referred to in the document. It talks about the common assessment framework, but that framework is more of a snapshot than an action plan and often tends to be bogged down in its own difficulties, such as who will pay for it and who is taking responsibility for the individual. We need a proper data-sharing tracking policy so that we can identify people not when they commit an offence or appear to have a problem, but when it would be really helpful to do so-not least to parents, who want assistance at the earliest possible moment.

I hope the Minister will agree that there is undoubtedly a degree of paralysis locally when people talk about data. There is always a problem with data protection. Ministers tell me that no problems exist-"Challenge them and confront them." However, the culture is there of saying no first-"Justify your request"-rather than building up the trust and the processes that would make data-sharing effective.

I have a few final questions to throw into the pot regarding the proposals. First, I very much welcome the idea that there should be a research centre on child well-being, which will include early intervention. When will that be created, how will it be set up and who will be represented in it? Will it, for example, use the expertise of the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People's Services, which does such good work?

Secondly, an early intervention implementation group will emerge. That is very welcome, but can we ensure that it does not, as was said in the document, act after a child's exclusion from school, but four years earlier than that-or possibly five, six or seven years earlier-so that we can pre-empt the child's being excluded from school by getting the right help to the parents and the baby?

The third issue is the use of evidence-based programmes. I think we would all like to see that, but we also need an independent organisational driver of the sort I have described as a centre for policy outcomes.

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